The True Value of a College Education

02/09/2017 04:41 pm ET Updated Mar 29, 2017

What does value mean? What does value mean in terms of higher education? Too often, this word is associated with the meaning “costs less.”

This term, which is actually defined as “something that is held in high regard” or “one’s judgment of what is important in life” has been given a bad rap with its lightweight association to price. A recent Wall Street Journal article noted that community colleges could potentially shave off approximately one-third of the cost of higher education for students who opt to begin at these institutions, making them a value that should be explored.

While this is true, there is more meaning to the “value of education” than just the price of tuition. Human beings are intrinsically drawn toward learning. It is a natural phenomenon that we yearn to learn more, know more, and feel more from the information we hear about, read about and collectively absorb.

This learning takes place in the classroom as well as in the open and diverse surroundings a college offers its students. Free thinking, discussion and discernment take place on college campuses. While I hope most people learn from their mistakes, students are in an environment that challenges them to make important decisions every day. Did they understand the assignment provided by their professor? If not, did they ask for assistance? How about the formulas on the blackboard? Or class projects they must work together with others to finish?

Being in a learning environment forces students to ask questions and make decisions on how to proceed toward greater critical thinking skills and success. Equally important lessons include personal growth, time management, leadership development and the feeling of accomplishment. As such, “accomplishment” isn’t determined by earning an associate, bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate degree. The true test of success is whether students have optimized their potential, achieved personal growth, and have accomplished their goals, whatever they may be.

College is a place that challenges and changes individuals. New courses are taken and topics are taught by professors who motivate students to explore answers to new, thought-provoking questions. Educators often push our students’ instinctive need for knowledge beyond their comfort levels. Students subsequently gain confidence in their intelligence and competencies. College is the groundbreaking influence that creates a drive toward lifelong learning.

Community colleges take pride in providing accessibility, affordability and high-quality education to our students. We value their growth and individuality as much as they value their learning experience.

Whether a person chooses to become a leader who makes complex decisions or the colleague who carries out these directions, the purpose of higher education is to equip individuals with the ability to gain knowledge and pass this learning on to others throughout their lives. Higher education stimulates a person’s innate quest for information and creates strong, empowered decision-makers who contribute positively to our community, country and global society.

Dr. Ann Rondeau is the President of College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn. Portions of this article ran previously in the Daily Herald in Illinois.

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